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Too young to retire, too old to work in the public service?

By 25 March 2013 16

Public servants and other employees who have secure employment and are happy doing what they are doing and where they are doing it have one major advantage: they are less likely to find themselves on the scrap heap when they are 60.

The federal and ACT public service, in addition to a swag of professional and non-government organisations, means that Canberra is home to a workforce with not only vast knowledge about particular issues, but also a range of generic skills including written and oral communication, negotiation, mentoring, researching and decision-making on sensitive and complex issues in difficult environments.

What becomes of this knowledge and expertise once these individuals hit 60?

Many of those who are now 60+ expect to keep working for at least another 5 years — but not necessarily with the sort of flat-out, take-over-your-life, demands that accompany so many APS6 and EL1 jobs in Canberra.

Yes, some become consultants, but many would prefer steady, part-time, employment where their experience is utilised and valued.

Despite the constant departmental rhetoric about ‘flexible work arrangements’ and ‘family-friendly environments’, these tend to be just that – rhetoric rather than reality.

Have other older ex-public servants made a successful transition to relevant, part-time work? If so, I’d love to know how you did it.

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16 Responses to Too young to retire, too old to work in the public service?
#1
shirty_bear9:55 am, 25 Mar 13

fwiw, I’m fairly certain that when (not “if”) the redundancy package arrives, my next career will be clearing tables at a food court. Once I master that, they might even let me drive the mop.

#2
miz10:02 am, 25 Mar 13

I wouldn’t exclude the APS from your part-time work explorations. Part time work and work life balance DOES exist in the APS. I know because I work in such an area.

My area has 12 personnel, of which five work part time and at least one works from home some of the time. The nature of the work we do (casework) is essential but not particularly high profile, and its clear deadlines make it easier for time management and work life balance. While most of these part timers are parents, one is older and chose to go part time for other reasons. All are seeking a more balanced life. OK, these kinds of work areas are less common, but they are around.

I presume that you are obliged to wait for a certain period before seeking to re-enter the APS. However, the APS *should* appreciate older ex-APS who wish to re-join, as all that corporate knowledge about the complex processes etc would enable someone like you to hit the ground running. Your biggest selling point is your experience, which would make you far more productive in a Govt Department than people without such experience.

Of course, the main problem for job seekers wanting an APS position at present is the ‘efficiency dividend’, which means virtually no recruitment. But if you can hang on for a bit, eventually something’s gotta give or things are literally going to get to a grinding halt.

I wish you well in your quest.

#3
mmillercfp10:07 am, 25 Mar 13

Hi Dacquiri

It’s not quite part-time work, but one option that is often overlooked is the ability in many employment agreements to purchase additional leave. This can usually allow you to buy up to an additional 4 weeks per year.

It does of course require the ability of your supervisor or section to manage workloads, deadlines etc in your absence for the time you take that annual leave, but worth exploring anyway!

Best of luck.

#4
frontrow10:31 am, 25 Mar 13

I can’t really say much about those who arrived in the service late in life but anyone who has been around for 20 years or more and is working past 60 out of necessity rather than choice obviously didn’t pay enough attention to the fabulously generous superannuation scheme.

#5
devils_advocate10:35 am, 25 Mar 13

This isn’t strictly in the context of someone nearing retirement age, but hopefully still relevant:

How broad is your definition of ‘part-time’?

For example, if you have strong skills, experience, qualifications, and are well-known in your relevant field, you can probably pick up a 3-4 month consultancy contract in that field. Generally the pay is around 2-2.5 times what they will pay you at the asst sec/dep sec level, since the public/private pay gap tends to widen out at that level. Also if you’re coming off a very high marginal tax rate, 3-4 months work delivers more after-tax income than you might expect, especially since you won’t be subject to PAYG contributions (you’ll of course just pay at the end of the year).

If it involves an overseas posting, then you have to get more than 183 days for it to be worthwhile, as you can get serious tax advantages depending on where it is. Plus there is often generous accomodation allowances that you can’t spend all of, even if you tried.

Point is, you can work say 4-6 months on, then have the rest of the year off, and still be clearing as much if not more after-tax incmoe than you made full time. I find it’s a lot easier to take on even a fairly strenuous workload if it is for a defined period with a defined goal that you are responsible for achieving (and not subject to some line-manager’s arbitrary interfering).

#6
thebrownstreak6911:01 am, 25 Mar 13

but not necessarily with the sort of flat-out, take-over-your-life, demands that accompany so many APS6 and EL1 jobs in Canberra.

LMAO!! This cannot be serious.

#7
BBQNinja11:21 am, 25 Mar 13

I’ve seen plenty of older people coming back to the public service doing part time work as an APS 3-5 level. It avoids the stress but keeps the benefits.

#8
King_of_the_Muppets5:33 pm, 25 Mar 13

thebrownstreak69 said :

but not necessarily with the sort of flat-out, take-over-your-life, demands that accompany so many APS6 and EL1 jobs in Canberra.

LMAO!! This cannot be serious.

This can be serious for some people. Not everyone is capable of more. We all have our strengths….

#9
King_of_the_Muppets5:36 pm, 25 Mar 13

devils_advocate said :

This isn’t strictly in the context of someone nearing retirement age, but hopefully still relevant:

How broad is your definition of ‘part-time’?

For example, if you have strong skills, experience, qualifications, and are well-known in your relevant field, you can probably pick up a 3-4 month consultancy contract in that field. Generally the pay is around 2-2.5 times what they will pay you at the asst sec/dep sec level, since the public/private pay gap tends to widen out at that level. Also if you’re coming off a very high marginal tax rate, 3-4 months work delivers more after-tax income than you might expect, especially since you won’t be subject to PAYG contributions (you’ll of course just pay at the end of the year).

If it involves an overseas posting, then you have to get more than 183 days for it to be worthwhile, as you can get serious tax advantages depending on where it is. Plus there is often generous accomodation allowances that you can’t spend all of, even if you tried.

Point is, you can work say 4-6 months on, then have the rest of the year off, and still be clearing as much if not more after-tax incmoe than you made full time. I find it’s a lot easier to take on even a fairly strenuous workload if it is for a defined period with a defined goal that you are responsible for achieving (and not subject to some line-manager’s arbitrary interfering).

The public service pay brackets are very interesting. I’m from the private sector, with friends and family in the public sector. I have noticed that lower level positions seem to be grossly overpaid when compared to the private but higher level positions seem to be underpaid. Maybe this is why those nearing retirement at the higher levels leave to do consulting?

#10
miz5:40 pm, 25 Mar 13

Not sure about that, KOTM: Executive Assistants the APS are in the ‘lower ranks’, yet get a lot less than they should, given what they do.

#11
devils_advocate5:41 pm, 25 Mar 13

King_of_the_Muppets said :

The public service pay brackets are very interesting. I’m from the private sector, with friends and family in the public sector. I have noticed that lower level positions seem to be grossly overpaid when compared to the private but higher level positions seem to be underpaid. Maybe this is why those nearing retirement at the higher levels leave to do consulting?

Yeah basically it’s all very compressed into a narrow band. You start your career, move through the APS/EL ranks fairly quickly, then by the time you’re in your mid-30′s and pushing into SES land the promotions become few and far between, and you have to start thinking more creatively to get some of the better remuneration opportunities out there.

#12
screaming banshee6:59 pm, 25 Mar 13

thebrownstreak69 said :

but not necessarily with the sort of flat-out, take-over-your-life, demands that accompany so many APS6 and EL1 jobs in Canberra.

LMAO!! This cannot be serious.

+1

Is there some sort of rush to the cafe that stresses the old timers.

#13
Dacquiri7:23 pm, 25 Mar 13

Thanks for all the responses. I get the message about short-term full-time positions, but it’s unusual to find a 3-6 mo. temp APS position that doesn’t require at least a baseline security clearance (mine expired last year). One of the interesting issues about ageing is how the ‘life’s too short’ perspective tends to loom large. This means that we roll our eyes at the typical APS jobs which are described as being in a ‘fast-paced environment’ with ‘competing demands and changing priorities’ — the only response to this is ‘why?’ — why can’t they organise their work in a more sensible way? Stressing out staff is not a virtue. I have been much happier in NGO-world, which you would think might be more flexible — but there aren’t many opportunities there and p/t isn’t common. I am sure there must be some pockets of the public sector which offer both financial and psychic rewards, but they seem to be much more the exception than the rule.
Another issue in Canberra is transport — I can travel to Civic by bus easily, but… will there be parking if I drive to Woden? What are the various costs of driving from Belconnen to Tuggeranong? What are the costs in terms of travel time for the 2 buses each way it would take to travel to Woden or Tuggeranong? Big chunk of the day that could otherwise be spent at gym, etc.
And no, I didn’t give up a potentially lucrative APS job — it was a senior policy position with an ACT Govt dept that I held for 14yrs (they refused to give me a package, so I resigned). Have had various federal govt and NGO positions for the past 6 yrs but am experiencing lengthy periods of unemployment, which is financially unsustainable.

#14
54-119:36 pm, 25 Mar 13

I have no idea of your background, but maybe the Parliamentary sitting pattern can provide some opportunities. The 3 parliamentary departments employ sessional staff at varying levels (security, Hansard, chamber support staff, etc), and there is also Comcar where most of the work is in sitting periods.

#15
NoAddedMSG9:35 am, 26 Mar 13

Have you looked at what is available in terms of general staff positions in the Higher Education sector? The pay is generally a little on the low side compared with the APS, but ANU and UC in particular are big employers of general staff and there is also the ACU, CIT, plus a few other smaller satellite sites around.

#16
jasmine9:59 am, 26 Mar 13

There are a few casual jobs in the APS (Commonwealth) that sometimes involve shift work if you don’t mind working those sorts of hours. As a casual you can stipulate work hours to some extent to work three days a week occasionally doing more or less depending on demand. I downshifted to APS4/5 role after I came back to work after raising children and found that best to balance work/life/family and outside interests. Every department is different as regards culture and pressures. I worked in a pretty high pressure environment where the workload never ended but I loved the work so it wasn’t a problem. It is all about liking what you do. At the lower levels it is easier to avoid all the typical BS that the APS can dish out at times, although at this level you also tend to be on the receiving end of any ‘innovations’ that might not always end up working as well but enables the manager to get their performance bonus for instigating changes; and where the lower echelons are not empowered to offer their advice based on their own experiences. This is particularly true of operational areas or those at the coal face of service. It is about balancing the pros and cons like most things in life and accepting the things you cannot change.

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